GKN Aerospace, NCC and partners launch ASCEND to accelerate high volume composite technologies

12 March 2021

  • £39.6 million ASCEND consortium to develop and accelerate high volume composite technologies
  • Public-private investment and cross-sector collaboration across UK industry aims to create more than 700 UK roles by 2035
  • Consortium strengthens UK industry’s position at forefront of next generation of sustainable aircraft and future mobility technology
  • National Composites Centre to lead work in high rate manufacturing and sustainability

GKN Aerospace is leading a new UK industry consortium called ASCEND (Aerospace and Automotive Supply Chain Enabled Development) to develop and accelerate composite material and process technologies for the next generation of energy efficient aircraft and future mobility.

The £40m consortium, funded by a £20m commitment from industry and a £19.6m commitment from the UK Government via ATI, will focus on greater adoption of composite technologies today, the industrialization of new technologies, as well as accelerating aerospace production rates to meet future high-volume requirements. The collaboration will help develop technologies from across the UK supply-chain to develop the advanced materials and automation equipment required to manufacture lightweight structures for the sustainable air mobility, aerospace and automotive industry.

The National Composites Centre (NCC) – one of seven centres of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult – joins GKN Aerospace, Assyst Bullmer, Airborne, Cobham Mission Systems Wimborne, Cygnet Texkimp, Des Composites, FAR-UK Ltd, Hexcel Composites, Hive Composites, LMAT, Loop Technology, Rafinex, Sigmatex (UK) and Solvay Composite Materials in the consortium with collaboration & investment support from Axillium Research. Through a three-year commitment, the partnership, backed by the UK Government, will bring together expertise, capabilities and resources from across the wider UK aerospace and automotive supply chain. In doing so, ASCEND will strengthen the UK’s position as a technology leader in future lightweight structures and help to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions in the aerospace and automotive industry.

As part of the programme, the NCC is leading the development of a sustainability framework for the aerospace industry in the sustainable use of composites, supporting the Government’s target of zero emissions by 2050. Composites are a crucial element in our journey to net zero and this work will provide the industry with the tools and methods they need to measure, analyse and improve the environmental sustainability of their products and services at every development stage. This is vital as regulations around sustainability and bring long-term competitive advantage to UK companies.

There is increasing demand for lower cost, higher rate manufacturing processes for future transport, which is driving automotive and aerospace manufacturers to research novel manufacturing technologies and new materials systems such as engineering thermoplastic matrix composites. In response to this, the NCC is also leading an activity in ASCEND to show how the thermoplastic composite overmoulding process can meet the increasing production rate requirements of future lightweight structures. The project will look at multi-materials joining, design for manufacture for the overmoulding process and will demonstrate this technology via industrial scale manufactured parts.

Kevin Mee, Head of Aerospace, Defence and Space at the National Composites Centre, said: "We are delighted to be a partner in the ASCEND programme and look forward to working with the consortium to develop cutting edge composite technologies that will benefit the UK supply chain. The NCC is leading work in ASCEND that will address some of the key challenges in both high rate manufacturing and sustainability, which are crucial in driving the UK’s aerospace and automotive industries to a net zero future."

The consortium will be led from GKN Aerospace’s £32m Global Technology Centre in Bristol and will support up to 130 jobs through 2023/24. GKN Aerospace will use its long-term experience and in-depth knowledge of composite engineering for integrated airframe structures – throughout the project.

John Pritchard, President Civil Airframes GKN Aerospace, said: "GKN Aerospace has deep knowledge and expertise in composite technology and we are proud to lead this consortium. Accelerating the next-generation of lightweight, cost effective advanced composite technologies is critical for the aerospace and automotive industry and its move to more energy-efficient aircraft and vehicles.  Ensuring we can not only develop these technologies, but also manufacture them at high-rate across the UK supply chain, will maintain our position as an industry leader and underpin our commitment to sustainability. Combined with the Aerospace Technology Institute, which is providing vital support for the UK’s position on the next generation of aircraft, we will be able to deliver breakthroughs in technology as well as benchmark levels of price, quality and repeatability."


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